Decision to respond criteria

How we make the decision to deploy our teams in a disaster or conflict

At ShelterBox we are impatient to see a world where no family goes without shelter.

We put families first, and strive to reach as many vulnerable families as we can that have been affected by disasters and conflict.

With your help, ShelterBox gives communities the shelter and supplies they need to transform their lives. Unfortunately, the need is ever growing and we aren’t able to help everyone. That is why we have ‘Decision to Respond Criteria’ which helps us make the tough decisions and prioritize the most vulnerable families around the world who wouldn’t otherwise receive assistance.

We use the following questions to help us decide whether a ShelterBox response is appropriate based on the need, what aid we can offer and if we have the available resources. We also recognize that in some cases we are not the best suited to help, and these questions help us ensure that we are reaching families and communities with whom ShelterBox aid will provide what they need, when they need it.

Government Response

Has the local Government declared a state of emergency and/or asked for international assistance?

The local Government has to be the primary responder. If Government resources are overwhelmed, then ShelterBox will look at responding, as long as we have permission to work there.

Number of Families Needing Help

Will at least 200 families need our aid?

Our experience shows in most cases, when the number of people who have lost their homes is under 200, most needs can be met through local organizations, or through family support systems (for example, staying with relatives). We prioritize responses where we can reach families who would not otherwise have shelter available.

Type of aid

Is our aid appropriate?

This is a very important question because each disaster is different and so is each community. We look carefully at whether the aid we can provide will meet family’s needs both culturally and contextually. We have a range of shelter options which make our aid adaptable to many situations, but they won’t always be what is needed.

We have a flexible approach to our aid and we work hard to understand what families need across different situations. Whilst emergency shelter is at the heart of ShelterBox, we also provide other essential items (such as blankets, water filtration equipment, kitchen sets, solar lights and more) that can help to restore a sense of normality for families living through disasters.

We will only respond if what we can offer will best support families who receive our aid so that they can recover.

Length of Time Support Will Be Needed

Will shelter aid be required for at least 1 month?

Schools and community centers are often better built to withstand disasters, and are then used as temporary evacuation centers. While not always ideal, these can meet shelter needs for a short period of time. Our teams prioritize responses where the need for shelter goes beyond the capacity or availability of evacuation centers.

Speed of Self-Recovery

Do people have the resources to recover themselves?

Our operations team also takes into consideration factors like average income, availability of building materials, resilience of infrastructure like hospitals and roads, insurance, government compensation and other factors which help us determine whether people will be able to recover themselves. Our responses will focus on areas in which people have limited ability to self-recover without assistance.

Local Capacity

We strive to provide aid to families who would not otherwise receive support. We work with partners and community organizations to understand the local need and capacity. While a situation may look severe, in some cases, local organizations and agencies are able to meet the needs without outside aid. ShelterBox responds when there is a need that won’t be met otherwise.

ShelterBox Resources

Do we have the resources needed for the duration of a response?

We carefully look at whether we have the people, finances, and aid needed before responding. We make sure that every family and community we work with gets the full support they need so we only respond when we have the resources to see the full response through.


Can we safely respond?

At ShelterBox we take the safety of our teams, our partners, and our beneficiaries seriously. We are experienced in working in lots of different and extreme situations around the world. We work hard to understand the risks involved and the resources we will need to help local families and ensure that our response can be carried out safely.

Sphere Standards

Do the vulnerabilities of the families who need help fall within Sphere definitions?

The Sphere Handbook is one of the most widely known and internationally recognized set of standards for humanitarian response. It outlines vulnerability criteria and response standards to ensure that humanitarian organizations are not causing harm (even if well meaning). ShelterBox uses these to help identify those within the emergency who need support the most, and adheres to all standards outlined. Learn more here.

Global Development Index Rating

What is the affected country’s index rating?

We will always work hard to prioritize and help the most vulnerable families in an emergency. When disasters happen across multiple countries and we have difficult decisions to make about where to respond, we will use additional criteria as outlined by INFORM (Index for Risk Management) Global Risk Index and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s list of countries eligible for Official Development Assistance to ensure we are helping those most in need.

Speed and Efficiency

Where will our aid have the greatest impact for families affected by disaster?

This is additional criteria which we use when we have budget restrictions or multiple countries are affected at the same time (such as Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean). When we can’t be everywhere, we focus on areas that our aid will have the biggest impact on families who need it the most.

Responding all over the world

ShelterBox does whatever it takes to support the most vulnerable communities around the world that are affected by conflict and disaster. Thank you for helping us provide emergency shelter and tools for families robbed of their homes by disaster, together we’re transforming despair into hope.